Friday, January 13, 2017

A Gesture of Inclusion from the Roanoke Theater Community

Travis Kendrick of MMT: "It is above politics and party."
For as long as I remember--and likely well before that--the arts has provided a safe haven for people who don't always fit in other segments. The various arts have welcomed those people in a way we hope churches would--but don't always. 

So, it is only natural that in this time of deep division in America, one often centered on our differences rather than our similarities, the arts community is making a strong and bold statement of brotherhood. It will manifest next week with the production of the Ghost Light Project outside Center in the Square in Roanoke. That's Thursday, Jan. 19 at 5:30 p.m. on Roanoke City Market Square. 
It is a simple vigil, an expression of community.
According to the national group putting this together, the Ghost Light Project "will join in a collective, simultaneous action, together creating 'light' for challenging times ahead." This is "inspired by the [theater] tradition of leaving a 'ghost light' on in a darkened theater" and those taking part "pledge to stand for and protect the values of inclusion, participation and compassion for everyone, regardless of race, class, religion, country of origin, immigration status, disability, gender identity or sexual orientation."

Travis Kendrick, the 31-year-old education associate at Mill Mountain Theatre, is organizing the project. Travis, a recent master's degree graduate of the University of California-Irvine in directing, who has quite a background in theater, likes the notion of community and sees smaller communities as a powerful force in theater nationally. In fact, much of this movement is being driven by community theaters--even professional ones like MMT.

This "is both a practical and metaphorical" expression, he says of the project. "This will be a light for the dark days ahead." Those taking part can do so individually or as part of an organization. The statements--"I am ... I fight for ..." are personal and specific. There is no guideline for what the participant is to say. 

"I don't believe this needs to be confused with a protest," says Travis. "It is a catalyst, above politics and party." It goes directly, he says, to the essence of human rights. "We have a mission [in the arts] to tell the truth. Our stories include people who are under-represented and not supported. ... A lot of people don't feel they have an outlet to have their voice heard. We are encouraging them to take action."

MMT director Ginger Poole sees no risk in the statement. It is, she says, "a positive message connecting theater artists to a positive cause. Your cause is personal."

This is a time when small gestures are meaningful and when they can open the person making that gesture to criticism and even abuse. I have always thought theater people--and the arts community in general--to be among the more courageous segments of our society. This gesture fits nicely with that opinion.

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